| 14.5°C Dublin

Booth rues lapses as Irish let Cup qualification slip

IN TERMS of blowing it, London Irish gambled it all yesterday and it came up red. In fact, it came up Scarlet.

With 15 minutes to go, the Exiles were 12 points to the good and seemingly on the way to the Heineken Cup quarter-finals. There was still the little matter of who would top the group, and their focus criminally turned to next Saturday's Twickenham showdown with Leinster.

A bonus-point win would have put Irish level with the defending champions on 20 points, which would basically have assured them of at least one of two runner-up placings that go through to the knockout stages. So with the game seemingly won, they went for it. The trouble was the game wasn't won -- and the identity of their opponents should have rang an alarm bell.

"Dejà vu," said London Irish coach Toby Booth, thinking back to the Scarlets' 27-25 win at the Madejski Stadium back in October. On that occasion Stephen Jones landed the late penalty to not so much upset the odds as leave them utterly mortified.

Jones wasn't fit enough to play yesterday but that did not stop the young Scarlets launching their remarkable comeback. In a surreal final quarter, the home side ran in three converted tries to win 31-22.

So instead of a five-pointer, London Irish left without so much as a bonus point and that could yet prove more calamitous than anything about this capitulation. Now they need to not only beat Leinster to head the group but to also win a bonus point and at the same time deny Brian O'Driscoll anything in defeat, which is on the audacious side of unlikely after Leinster's RDS win over Brive.

It was a scenario Booth was trying to come to terms with yesterday: I do feel that a lot of what went on today was our own doing," he said. "At 22-10 up we expected to close it out."

The chances are they would have closed it out if they had elected to go for the posts and not for the corner in the 59th minute. That would have taken them 15 points up, and being more than two scores down the Scarlets might very well have lacked the incentive to turn all Harry Houdini.

Booth was not about to rollock his side for that gung-ho nonsense, although he did say: "You live by the decisions you make and maybe they'll learn from that. But we had had glorious opportunities to put that game to bed and we didn't take them."